12 Signs You Have a Healthy Company Culture

 

July 18 , 2019 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.”

-Ken Robinson

There is a lot of talk these days about employee wellness. Rightly so. But what about the health of your company culture?

It seems like it’s stating the obvious that a positive work culture means greater productivity while a negative work culture can be counterproductive and even toxic.

A large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.

A 2012 workplace culture study conducted by Deloitte found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.

Moreover, 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success.

What does a healthy culture look like?

Work culture is a combination of employee values, attitudes, expectations, and beliefs blended with the principles of the organization.  To a large extent, the culture shapes employee interaction, productivity, and loyalty to the organization or team.

Below are 12 key indicators of a healthy work culture:

  1. Respect.  Employees are respected for ‘who’ they are; not just ‘what’ they know and they respect their fellow workers and work meaningfully to avoid personality conflicts, gossip, and backbiting.
  2. Creativity.  Employees feel that their work exercises their creativity and imagination. They don’t feel stagnated and feel that the company values innovation and innovative thinking. They are encouraged to ‘think out of the box.’
  3. Strength Based. Employees believe that their personal strengths are utilized, nurtured, and supported. The organization takes the view that building upon employee strengths is the way to optimize performance.
  4. Open Communication.  Employees feel they have the freedom to contribute ideas and alternate views without fear of reprimand. They can weigh in knowing that all their ideas may not be implemented but they are welcomed.
  5. Knowledge Access.  Employees feel empowered if they have access to data and information which flows easily up, down and across the organization.
  6. Encouragement.  Employees feel that they are recognized and encouraged to perform their best. The company puts their money where their mouth is and supports employees to do their best with resources and incentives.
  7. Clarity.  Employees understand the direction their team and organization is headed. The mission, goals, and strategies are clearly articulated and inculcated.
  8. Emphasis on Learning. Employees should feel that they are learning and developing.  They should have access to new training, workshops, mentoring, coaching, and presentations.
  9. Positive Relationships. Employees work better when they feel they have quality, supportive, and energizing relationships with fellow workers. Employees feel that a positive work environment is important and prioritized for the company.
  10. Fairness. Employees feel that their work performance is assessed fairly following a set of standards that are evenly applied. Employees also feel that work promotions and assignments are based on a system of meritocracy vs. a system of favoritism.
  11. Contribution.  Employees must feel that they are making a contribution to the team and that they are justly recognized for their contributions. When contribution is not encouraged or recognized employee engagement suffers.
  12. Engagement. As a cultural norm, the company places emphasis on employee engagement but employees also accept their own responsibility to be engaged and to encourage others to stay engaged.

A Final Word

A healthy workplace environment is good for your company. Period. Company culture is important to the success of the employees because they are more likely to be productive when they enjoy their workplace. The costs of a poor company culture can result in low employee engagement, higher employee turnover, diminished customer service, and a host of other negative impacts on the bottom line. Too many managers micromanage their employees, lack transparency and open communication and don’t emphasize collaboration and team work. They lack direction and clear values.

As more younger generations enter the workplace, the same old management styles may not be as effective as they were in past decades. A positive company culture is a right, not a privilege. In the worst case scenario, toxic environments are toxic to your health. Employees will care for the company they are working for if they know that they are being looked after. Employees are the best asset of every organization, and putting effort into culture wellness can encourage better teamwork, increased productivity and reduce sick leave.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

How to Think Like a CEO: The 10X Impact One Mindset Shift Can Make

July 3 , 2019 •  6 minute read • by Saeed


“A flower does not think to compete with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” 

—Zen Shin

I know. It’s tough to be an employee.

But what if the company was yours? What would you do? How would you behave? What would you think about? What would you start paying attention to? What would keep you up at night?

I was recently invited to speak on leadership at an event. Before the talk, I watched as my clients were working with the venue staff in last minute preparations. They asked for some simple syrup to go with the ice tea. Simple syrup. Simple request.

For the uninitiated, if you’ve never heard of simple syrup (that would be me), allow me to explain. Simple syrup is basically sugar dissolved in water. The solution is heated in a pot to fully dissolve the crystals and then cooled before using and/or storing. It’s actually better than just adding sugar to your ice tea because it dissolves more easily.

Much to their disappointment however, my clients were told there was no simple syrup in the building and there was no time to make any.

During this exchange, I began to notice one of the waiters who was working in the background setting up the room listening intently to the conversation. He suddenly disappeared into the kitchen for what seemed like a long time. After about 20 minutes or so, he emerged with a tray of freshly made simple syrup and a look of serious pride on his face. We were all amazed and naturally pleased. He was all smiles as he described how, well, simple it is to make simple syrup.

I knew I had just watched an act of leadership that would probably go unnoticed. So I made sure it didn’t. During my talk, I told the simple syrup story to the rest of the group who had by now arrived and had no idea that the sweetener for their ice tea was the result of a simple act of leadership. The group applauded his efforts and I am sure it made his day just as he had made ours.

This is the CEO mindset in action – enterprise wide thinking that puts the customer first. The 10x impact one mindset shift can make was on full display that day and its impact still reverberates.

The CEO Mindset

If we could see inside the mind of a successful CEO, we might discover many things. Here are the 10 most important modalities of the CEO mindset + one more that wraps around all others which I will mention in the final word.

  1. They are self-aware. Everything in life starts with self-awareness. Successful CEOs have a highly developed and functioning awareness of themselves, their situation and those of their numerous stakeholders. They are also well aware of their own thinking and how they learn (meta-cognition). Everything, everywhere, at all times starts with self-awareness.
  2. They have vision. Successful CEOs have a vision. They set goals and keep score to track progress always anchored in that vision. It may seem like stating the obvious but unless you know where you are going, it’s hard to get there. But many people, work without a vision or a destination in mind. The result is they go around in circles.
  3. They are focused. Along with a clear vision of where the organization is going, they maintain a keen focus on what is at stake. They harness the attention and focus of the entire organization in the same direction. Leadership is about focusing the entire group’s attention on what’s wildly important. Successful CEOs know this and are good at harnessing attention.
  4. They communicate early and often. They are excellent communicators that seek to understand others by asking probing questions. They listen genuinely for the responses and act on the input they receive. They also know that months or years of good work and team building can be destroyed by a few careless words. Inspirational pep talks have a lifespan of about 30 minutes. They are like showers – you need to take one every day. Cruel words, however, echo for ages. Successful CEOs mind their manners and theirwords.
  5. They value relationships. They seek to build consensus and are relationship builders who can foster cooperation and support when faced with conflict. They don’t burn bridges recognizing that the same people they met on the way up could be the same people they meet on the way down. They leverage their network to achieve their goals but they also know how to give value to the people that surround them. They take care of people first.
  6. They don’t blame. Successful CEOs are able to hold themselves and others accountable without blame. When things go wrong, they face failures and negative events head-on. They take responsibility instead of shifting blame despite the possible consequences. When all is said and done, they own their mistakes, learn from them and move on. No collateral damage.
  7. They think continuous improvement. They continually look to understand, correct and improve and they adjust their thinking based on qualitative and quantitative data they intentionally collect to achieve better results. Critical to this is the confidence that improvement is possible and the understanding that without improvement competitors will triumph. They have a learning mindset and create learning organizations and environments.
  8. They think Return on Investment: They know what their time is worth. They review schedules, meetings, and tasks and consider if they are generating a true return on their time and effort. For those that are not, they might reduce or modify them to get more “return”. Successful CEOs manage and protect their time like a precious commodity. They know their self-worth and exhibit it in all their behaviors.
  9. They see opportunities; not obstacles. They realize that there’s positive power in seeing problems as opportunities. The best CEOs always think in terms of opportunities and have zero tolerance for complaining. It takes practice to adopt a CEO mindset and it’s easy to spot when someone doesn’t have it – that mindset or lack thereof is almost always directly proportional to how much people complain. Successful CEOs see everything as a problem that needs a solution and an opportunity to improve.
  10. They think big. Lastly, successful CEOs think out of the box and think big. Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook would not be the companies they are today with small thinking. You are the best judge of your ability to think big. By exposing yourself to the right people and incrementally challenging yourself both vertically (accepting responsibilities above your position) and laterally (increasing the number of responsibilities within your position), your capacity to “think big” will grow.

A Final Word

There is one final mindset shift that can not be overlooked and encompasses all others. Successful CEOs maintain a positive mental attitude even in the face of adversity. They know that they must set a positive tone for their companies because without the influence of a strong leader, organizations succumb to negative mental inertia. The CEO must always be injecting a positive mental attitude into the enterprise. So should you.

True transformation requires a mindset shift. As organizations begin to grapple with more volatile times, higher demands are placed on everyone to exhibit CEO level leadership – not just those with the title. Not only do we have to do away with the idea of a single leader in charge because our volatile times demand it, but we have to do away with this idea because our own success demands it.

Successful CEOs think differently than individual contributors. It’s a CEO’s thinking, training and instincts that drive their actions and decisions. You don’t need to be a CEO to think like one however – thinking like a CEO is a mindset shift that you can adopt and that will help you become more successful no matter what you do. We can learn to remodel our personal skills and abilities into CEO level competencies if we learn to think like a CEO. If we do, we can make a major change in the way business gets done across the board. The result is that the entire organization benefits.

Think about the good leaders for which you have worked. Aren’t they usually the first ones in the office and the last ones to head home? Aren’t they the people who attack a problem head on, solve it and learn from it? Aren’t they the ones with the positive outlook?

Thinking like a CEO requires a significant mindset shift. How do you do that with something as intangible as mindset or thinking?

It’s as simple as simple syrup.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Your Communication Style May Be Killing Your Career

June 7 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

In life many of us are taught that we should always concede, appease or defer to others. Sometimes this is cultural. Sometimes it’s familial.

We are taught that it is selfish to consider our needs above those of others. We are taught not to assert our needs, wants and desires.

And like a bean bag chair, what gets pushed out the other end is either passive or aggressive or passive-aggressive communication and behaviors that are self defeating, and cause more harm to relationships.

I have seen many careers go down in flames in the flash of an eye because the person had not developed assertive communication skills.

Moreover, assertive people tend to have fewer conflicts in their dealings with others, which translates into much less stress in their lives.

First let’s define assertiveness.

Some people mistakenly think they are being “assertive” when in fact they are being aggressive.

Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights in a way that respects the rights of others.

Aggressive communication and behavior involves communicating in a demanding, abrasive, or hostile way. It is insensitive to others’ rights, feelings and beliefs. The usual goals of aggression are domination and winning, forcing the other person to lose.

On the other end of the spectrum is passive-aggressive communication. We have all experienced the person who expresses their feelings in an indirect way through passive resistance, rather than by openly confronting an issue. Instead of directly communicating the desires and needs, they resort to sulking; ignoring; complaining; procrastinating; deliberately being late or slow; intentionally dropping the ball; acting in a way that will frustrate others; giving you the silent treatment and ‘acting innocent’ when they have done something to hurt someone.

Assertive communication is important because it helps us avoid:

  • Resentment: I feel anger at others for manipulating, exploiting or taking advantage of me.
  • Frustration: How could I be such a push-over? Why did I let them walk all over me? What’s wrong we me?
  • Anxiety and Avoidance: When we begin to avoid situations or people that we know will make us uncomfortable, we may miss out on fun activities, job opportunities, relationships, and lots of other good stuff.

Some people may believe that they don’t have the right to be assertive. Others fear repercussions of acting assertively and others still just lack the skills to express themselves effectively.

It is extremely important when communicating that you focus on the person’s behavior and not their personality. This is what it looks like in action:

1. Tell the person what you think about their behavior without accusing them.

2. Tell them how you feel when they behave a certain way.

3. Tell them how their behavior affects you and your relationship with them.

4. Tell them what behavior you would prefer them instead.

Assertive communication has three important components:

1. Empathy/validation: It’s important that you first demonstrate that you understand the other person’s feelings. This shows the other person that you’re not trying to pick a fight and it takes the wind out of their sails.

For example: “I know that you have a lot going on and it’s sometimes difficult for you to meet all the demands of your day…”

2. Problem Statement: Using “I” messages, describe your difficulty or dissatisfaction with the situation and why you need something to change.

For example: “…but I feel anxious when you don’t return my emails because I am not sure how to interpret the silence…”

3. Solution Statement: This is a specific request or solution for a specific change in the other person’s behavior you would like to see.

For example: “Moving forward, could we agree that you will just let me know that you received my email with a simple short reply even if you don’t have time to answer my question?”

As you practice this approach, you will become more comfortable with assertively communicating your needs, wants and desires. Remember that voice tone, eye contact, and body posture are important parts of assertive communication.

Make sure your body language matches your words. Your listener will get mixed messages if you are speaking firmly while looking at the floor.

Speak at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive.

Tell the other person how you feel as honestly as you can, and remember to listen to what they say as well.

A Final Word

The purpose of communication is to share ideas and negotiate relationships. Communicating assertively will not guarantee the other person will change his or her behavior and give you what you want, but it will help you establish limits and boundaries with others. Assertiveness is a skill which requires you to practice in many different situations. You objective should always be to create mutual purpose while you balance what’s best for yourself, others and the relationship.

In the words of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.” The result for both parties is win-win.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Your Workplace is Broken and It’s Your Manager’s Fault

June 5 , 2019 •  9 minute read • by Saeed


“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boos the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, its amazing what they can accomplish.”

~Sam Walton

In high school, I had an English teacher who used to say that if you have one good friend in the course of your lifetime—just one—you should consider yourself lucky. Mr. Smith was right and the same can be said about good managers.

While the world’s workplace is going through extraordinary change, the practice of management has been frozen in time for decades.

Employees often cite lackluster benefits, low engagement, and lack of a challenge for their low levels of satisfaction. But when it comes to high levels of turnover, one culprit is likely to blame: poor management.

It’s been said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers, and in companies with high turnover, this is often true.

Turnover is costly to an organization in terms of both money and morale and losing a high-performing employee can be detrimental to a company’s health.

While a competent boss is likely to retain employees, an incompetent manager is likely to have the opposite effect. According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, there is a strong correlation between a competent manager and an employee’s satisfaction. In other words, the more competent the boss, the more likely the employee is to stay with the company.

But that kind of competence is an endangered species and when turnover is high in a company, that’s a sign that Nessie may be lurking just below the surface (Nessie is the adorable name given to a large marine creature believed by some to inhabit Lock Ness, Scotland).

Fear and Loathing On the Shop Floor

A 2012 study, conducted by psychologist Michelle McQuaid, the author of Five Reasons to Tell Your Boss To Go F**k Themselves, found the majority of Americans are unhappy in the workplace—and more often than not, they say their boss is to blame.

In fact, 35% of U.S. employees said they would willingly forego a substantial pay raise if their direct supervisor got fired.

Gallup research found that 60% of government workers are miserable because of bad bosses. Significant percentages of US workers describe their bosses as follows:

  • Self-oriented (60%)
  • Stubborn (49%)
  • Overly demanding (43%)
  • Impulsive (41%)
  • Interruptive (39%)

Even more alarming, research by New York-based psychologist Paul Babiak has suggested up to 4% of business leaders in the US could be psychopaths.

Too often businesses focus on the bottom line but neglect the human beings who are the backbone of the organization.

What human beings need (besides good leadership) is psychological safety.

Just Google Psychological Safety

Google conducted a massive two-year study on team performance, which revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.

It may be stating the obvious that when people are afraid, it hampers their creativity. Employees won’t take risks or try new things if they are in a constant state of fear.

When you manage via intimidation, people will fearfully work to meet expectations – but they will never exceed them. They will do the minimum required to keep you off their back but that’s as far as they will go. If you want to get optimal performance from people you have to not only capture their heads, but also their hearts.

When you create a safe, encouraging work relationship where it’s ok to make mistakes, you’ll end up with employees that are more proactive, creative and innovative.

Your Bad Boss Could Be Killing You (Literally)

Poor leadership is also resulting in elevated levels of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and indecisiveness across nearly all workplaces. But far worse, studies show that bad bosses are also bad for your heart.

In these studies clear links have been established between aggressive, intimidating or “bad” supervisors with increases in anxiety, depression, the deterioration of personal relationships away from work and, yes, even heart disease.

One longitudinal study conducted by Swedish researchers at the Stress Institute in Stockholm found that employees who had managers with the following traits are 60% more likely to suffer coronary heart disease:

  • Their managers were incompetent.
  • They were inconsiderate.
  • They were secretive.
  • They were uncommunicative.

In another large-scale study of over 20,000 employees conducted at the Karolinska Institute, results showed a strong link between leadership behavior and heart disease in employees.

Conversely, the Karolinska study also showed that employees who rated their managers as inspirational, positive and enthusiastic also reported less short-term sick leave.

Good management is clearly good for the bottom line, morale and turnover, but as it turns out, it’s also good for your cardiovascular health.

How So Called Leaders Fail to Lead

Besides their poor communication skills, lack of transparency, and their myopic vision, there are a number of other key ways that poor managers fail to lead. The list is actually quite long but I have tried to whittle it down here to the most problematic and observable behaviors of toxic bossary. If you recognize more than one of these signs in your boss, it may be time to start browsing the help wanted section of your local newspaper (is there still such a thing?)

1) They Are Narcissists Who Lack Empathy: Practically everyone I know, including myself, has either worked for a narcissistic boss or been exposed to one. You know the type: they are quick to claim credit and quick to assign blame. They treat everyone like they are dispensable, using people for their own gains and then discarding them, either literally or emotionally. Unfortunately, this one trait overrides every other.

Narcissists are fixated on controlling all outcomes, usually through micromanaging behaviors, sometimes subtle and sometimes guileless. They are usually hyper competitive and disingenuous. They will not think twice about firing you on the spot if you fail to agree with their point of view. These workplaces often have an undercurrent of fear because the employees have seen other staff members thrown out at a moments notice and fear the same could happen to them. Worst of all, narcissists lack remorse having very little to no ability to feel empathy for others. Due to their inflated sense of self-importance, the feelings of others are not something that keeps them up at night.

The Fix: Narcissists love flattery due to their over-inflated egos. If you are independently minded and refuse to kiss up to your narcissistic boss, or worse yet, challenge them in any way, your head will invariably be on the chopping block and the guillotine will fall swiftly and decisively. The best advice I can give you is to make a decision (to leave) before one is made for you.

2) They Take Credit For Your Work: A study done by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 37% of polled employees were happy with how their ideas were received by their supervisors. In Good to Great, Jim Collins highlighted Level 5 leaders who were characterized as being exceptionally modest (which is one reason why few of them were well-known prior to the book). As the old saying goes, modesty is a virtue. Modest leaders share credit, which encourages their colleagues to contribute more effort and feel better about themselves and their help in producing organizational success.

The Fix: If you are the manager-leader, acknowledge your employees’ hard work and ideas and give credit where credit is due, both publicly and privately. Strong, confident, and effective manager-leaders take pride in the success of their people and are happy to sing their praises. It creates a win-win situation and is at the foundation of employee engagement. If you are the employee and your boss is not a narcissist, they may not realize they’re hogging the glory. If this is the case, having a private discussion with your boss may be enough to do the trick.

3) They Are Micromanages: There is nothing good about a practice that will eventually lead to a massive breakdown of confidence and competence in your employees. That’s gthe impact of micromanagement. What may be perceived as short term gains (control and task completion) never outweighs the long term loss of micromanaging otherwise perfectly competent staff. It is likely that they will end up becoming dependent on you, resenting you and eventually leaving you.

The Fix: Consider the reasons why managers micromanage in the first place (ego, insecurity, inexperience, perfectionism, arrogance). Train and coach managers in effective delegation techniques that provide the needed information for job completion without micromanagement. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey suggests that you delegate results rather than methods. Tell your employee the objective you have for the task at hand and let them go. As long as you get the result you’re looking for and your team member learns along the way, we have a win/win.

4) They Show Favoritism: Poor leaders promote a culture of favoritism, often protecting or promoting those who reinforce their own ego. Once on a job, a manager confessed to me unabashedly (because she was also a narcissist) that she had a favorite on the team. The favorite got special assignments, special perks, and they were friends outside of work (all telltale signs). Not only are these arrangements unfair and unethical, but they kill staff morale. The blindside of their ego also doesn’t realize that the favoritism is rarely reciprocated. The teacher’s pet in my own example left for a better paying job the first chance she got.

The Fix: If you are the one favored, the most professional thing you can do is to not accept the benefits of favoritism. If the shoe is on the other foot, don’t resent the favored employee. After all it’s not their fault. You may have to other colleagues to check your perception or to HR if the situation is particularly egregious. Failing that, be patient, always endeavor to maintain trust, maintain your self-belief and stay positive. 

5) They Are Critical: To put it mildly, these bosses never learned how to give constructive feedback. Criticism is like a productivity poison injected into your veins. It has a negative effect on your self-image and studies have found that your self-image has far more to do with your performance than any other indicator. Many people who face endless criticism from a bad boss wind up quitting – as they should.

The Fix: First, easier said than done but try not to take it personally. Recognize that getting defensive, withdrawing or reciprocating the criticism is counterproductive. Try balancing out the criticism by getting positive feedback from other sources. Find a mentor or two, inside or outside your organization, to give you the constructive feedback you’re not getting from your boss. If you are a manager who is struggling with how to give constructive feedback, attack the problem, not the person; describe observable facts, not opinions or hearsay; and offer specific suggestions for improvement. 

Houston, We Have A Leadership Crisis

Combine too much work, too many demands, too many unrealistic expectations with too little appreciation and too many managers who, well, couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag, and you have a full fledged leadership crisis.

Companies make crucial mistakes when developing new managers, especially first time, front of the line leaders.

A survey of 1,367 executives by the Institute for Corporate Productivity reported that even among the best, highest performing companies, 66 % reported that they were ineffective at developing leaders and were getting worse.

Often, people are promoted into management roles for all the wrong reasons. The criteria used to promote is subjective, political, and/or not well thought through. Critical training opportunities are overlooked in the crucial first 90 days or not provided at all.

There is no correspondence between power and competency. It is more important than ever that we get leadership development right. The onset of new technologies means all kinds of professions are now in the cross hairs of change and nearly every organization is in the middle of some seismic industry shift.

This radical shift requires radical reformulation of the leadership ethos. Good leadership is a workplace right, not a privilege.

A Final Word

In Stanford Business School Professor Bob Sutton’s brilliant treatise on the subject of leadership aptly titled “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t,” Professor Sutton makes a well-reasoned argument that these despots, tyrants, and bullies are bad for the people that work with them and for them, and for the organizations that harbor them.

But he is also emphatic about this point: even if assholes are successful, life is too short and too precious to tolerate them.

Personally and professionally, I have yet to come across a workplace where leadership is not broken. Twenty-first-century success depends on good leadership and good leadership depends on trust, integrity, generosity, and empathy, among a slew of other character traits. There’s no team without it. And without team, there is no organization.

Underlying every team’s who-did-what confrontation are universal needs such as respect, competence, social status, and autonomy. Recognizing these deeper needs naturally elicits trust and promotes positive language and behaviors on the part of leaders.

Be weary of bullies, despots, ego-driven narcissists and tyrants. Bosses behaving badly or ineffectively lead to workplace zombies, high levels of stress, burnout, and attrition. McQuaid who’s taking on workplace bullying, one boss at a time, says ridding the workplace of the scourge of bad bosses will save our economy $360 billion in lost productivity each year.

We must demand more and expect better from our leadership. It’s good for the bottom line, good for the customer and good for the economy. Most importantly, it’s good for our health.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

People Simply Empty Out

May 27 , 2019 •  8 minute read • by Saeed


“I recommend you all get fired. It’s a great learning experience.”

Anna Wintour

When you get fired, it can feel earth shattering. But for such a seemingly catastrophic event, getting fired is more common than you might think. Business icons like Steve Jobs, Anna Wintour and Oprah Winfrey were all famously fired at some point in their career. In fact, in 2010 Wintour told a conference audience: “I recommend you all get fired. It’s a great learning experience.”

There are also a whole slew of reasons why the firing might not have even been your fault. In many cases, people get fired not because they are so bad, but precisely because they are so great: Setting reasonable boundaries in a chaotic work environment, raising “elephant in the room” issues that management is afraid to address, working with a small minded boss that falsely perceives you as a threat, challenging convention or delivering such stellar results that you outshine your masters. These can all be hidden reasons for being shown the door. Getting fired from the right place for the right reasons can be a badge of honor. Their loss is your gain.

In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a full-time writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did exactly that, and just weeks after leaving work finished writing his first book, Post Office, a semi-autobiographical story in which Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, Henry Chinaski, muddles through life as an employee of the US Postal Service. It was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press in 1971. 15 years later, Bukowski wrote a letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full-time employment.

8-12-86

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

(Source: Reach for the Sun Vol. 3; via Letters of Note)

In Celebration of Motherhood: The Ultimate Leadership Role

May 12 , 2019 •  7 minute read • by Saeed


“Mothers who work full time – they are the real heroes.” Kate Winslet

In 1936, the US was gripped by the Great Depression and one photographer, Dorothea Lange, decided to abandon her portrait and studio work to document the suffering she was witnessing all around her.

As Lange was driving through Nipomo California on a mild March day, she passed by a pea pickers camp but continued to drive on tired from her day’s work. But something mysterious nagged at her and she turned around after initially driving 20 miles past the camp. Photographers know this nagging feeling all too well. Something unbeknownst to her was beckoning her back.

As it turned out, the image she would snap of Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother, would become the most iconic photo of the Depression and arguably of the 20th century. Lange spent 10 minutes and shot six images. In the final image Migrant Mother gazes into the distance with all the suffering and weariness of poverty upon her face juxtaposed with a clear sense of dignity and grit. Her children cowering behind her for protection communicate all the strength of family, motherhood, and yes, leadership.

She is on her own.

In contemporary U.S. society, leadership continues to be viewed as a masculine activity. Yet, in a study of 60 women leaders (Erkut & Winds of Change Foundation, 2001) close to 40% of prominent women from a variety of fields spontaneously made reference to motherhood when describing a good leader or leadership training. This is not to say that fathers don’t embody some or all of these qualities or to suggest that it is necessary for women to be mothers to become effective leaders. Rather, it is simply an acknowledgement of the role of motherhood and the significance of the traits mothers exhibit universally as it pertains to leadership.

  1. On modeling the way: Moms lead their children every day. As the old adage goes, children follow what you do and not what you say and the same holds true for leadership. The best leaders are role models first and your first role model is your mom.
  2. On being a servant leader: While servant leadership is a hot topic in leadership circles today, it is actually a timeless concept practiced by mothers everywhere. The concept is rooted in the quality and trait of those leaders who want to serve first and no-one embodies this better than your mom.
  3. On emphasizing growth and development: Who is more invested in your growth and development than your mom? Who has coached you through your life’s struggles and always kept encouraging you to persevere and succeed? You guessed it. Mom. It is her encouragement and inspiration that has helped you grow and flourish.
  4. On communicating core values: The best leaders consistently communicate the core values of the organization and live those values. Values are in your DNA and they were probably passed onto to you by your mother first and foremost.
  5. On fostering purpose and passion: Studies have shown that people are at their best when they are passionate about what they are doing and when they have tapped into their life purpose. Leaders (and mothers) unleash the enthusiasm of their followers (and their children) with stories and passions of their own and encourage you to lead purposeful and heart-centered lives.
  6. On fostering health and well being: The best leaders know that people are not assets. They are human beings. Without them, there is no organization. The health and well-being of your team or organization is dependent on the health and well-being of its members. The best leaders know that and so does your mom.
  7. On creating communities: Collaborative leaders understand that one of their more important roles is to create communities. Leadership is the result of a social contract and only occurs in a social framework where you influence the direction people are going in and unite them in accomplishing a common goal. I am willing to bet that it’s your mom that’s at the center of the community created around your family.
  8. On demonstrating grit: Mothers (and the best leaders) are tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people. In her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” Angela Duckworth illustrates how grit matters just as much, if not more, than both talent and luck to achieving extraordinary things. This, for me, is the enduring legacy of Migrant Mother.

A Final Word:

When it was first published, the image of Migrant Mother sparked a flurry of philanthropy but no one ever knew what had happened to Florence Thompson. As it turns out, a reporter discovered her living in a trailer park outside Modesto California in 1978. She was 75 years old. She married at 17 and when she was 28 and pregnant with her sixth child, her husband died of tuberculosis. That’s why he wasn’t in the iconic picture. Thereafter, she would put her babies in bags and carry them around as she worked the fields. Maintaining her dignity throughout her ordeal, she was initially reluctant to allow Lange to photograph her and her family as specimens of poverty. In 1983 Thompson suffered a stroke and was unable to pay her hospital bills. Her children used her identity as Migrant Mother to raise the funds she needed to pay her expenses. She died soon after the stroke but her dignity always endured and does to this day as a symbol of motherhood and humanity in the face of extreme adversity.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Are managers leaders? Are leaders managers?

May 6 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

The debate about management vs. leadership is a long standing one in organizational development literature. The terms “management” and “leadership” are often interchanged. Some, view management as distinct from leadership as day is from night. One key distinction often made between management and leadership is that as managers, we manage things (physical assets, processes, and systems) and as leaders, we lead people (customers, external and internal partners).

This is a false distinction.

While it is important to recognize the differences between leadership and management, it is also important to appreciate that the two have complementary strengths, as well. In fact, both are necessary for a high-performance organization. The truth is managers need to be good leaders – their people need vision, consideration, and guidance! And leaders need to be good managers of the resources entrusted to them!

So how do you do both?

  1. Be Mission Oriented: Never lose sight of the mission, purpose, and results you need to achieve. Put out the fires, yes, but try not to be distracted and forced into applying your energy in different directions. While these difficulties often need to be attended to, don’t allow them to diffuse your impact.
  2. Shoot for the Moon: Almost anyone can achieve easy goals. But what is your competition aiming for? Good leaders use their visioning skills to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals with a thorough understanding of how to reach them… not with reckless abandon. Good managers set up systems to help their people achieve the goals.
  3. Take the coach approach: good leaders and managers are also good coaches. They know that there are teaching moments and learning opportunities around every corner and they keep a pulse on their employees levels of engagement through structured coaching conversations. Not only must you coach your people, you must also change the culture to a mindset of a learning organization – a coaching culture if you will. You cannot be the only coach — the entire organization needs to know the skills, have the technologies, and create the atmosphere that allows people to help develop others through both formal and informal experiences.
  4. Be a role model: At the end of the day, people watch what you do, not what you say. Remember always that you are a role model of the organization who sets the standard by being a person of good character, knowing your job, and doing all that matters to advance the work. The standards you set are the standards that will be followed.
  5. Create inclusive environments: Diversity makes an organization effective by capitalizing on all of the strengths of each employee. It is about empowering people by understanding, valuing, and using the differences in every person. Mastering diversity leads to inclusion where all people feel they are highly valued for their uniqueness. In turn, the organization benefits from the synergistic effects of a cohesive team who bring an array of experiences to the table.

A Final Word

In order for you to engage your staff in providing the best service to your customers, clients or partners, you must enroll them in your vision and align their perceptions and behaviors. You need to get them excited about where you are taking them while making sure they know what’s in it for them. With smaller organizations, the challenge lies in making sure you are both leading your team as well as managing your day to day operations. Those who are able to do both, will create a competitive advantage. Both management and leadership are needed to make teams and organizations successful. Trying to decide which is more important, is like trying to decide whether the front or back wheel is more important to balancing a bicycle.

Good luck.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Why It’s Time to Ditch Your Performance Reviews

April 10 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” 

-Ken Blanchard

Most employees look forward to their performance review the way they look forward to a funeral. They are equally dreaded by the managers who deliver them.

Despite the goal, you give employees constructive feedback about their work to encourage individual performance, most are a dreary exercise in further disillusionment, disconnection and demoralization.

That’s because in many organizations today, reviews aren’t really designed to help employees grow; they’re designed to manage promotions and raises or to go through the motions of performance management and accountability.

Instead, the performance management system goal should be to provide on-going coaching and feedback to employees with the aim of developing and improving employee performance and team effectiveness.

This requires that employees receive on-going constructive feedback about their job performance in relation to their goals, their approach to innovation and the opportunities before them to create value.

Compare this to top flight athletes. They don’t receive reviews a couple of times of year.  If they did, they’d fail.  Rather, they receive on-going coaching.  This type of feedback creates an immediate awareness of what they’re doing right and what they need to do to overcome barriers and do even better.

With this in mind, perhaps it’s time to ditch this archaic exercise.

Master the Coaching Conversation

There are progressive companies out there that have moved away from traditional performance reviews, in favor of creating cultures of coaching, feedback, development, and high performance.

Such organizations have managed to re-shape their cultures to ones based on coaching; where everyone in a leadership role is trained on how to coach.  In this way, leaders give their employees constant performance feedback, which in turn, engages employees and creates a desire to continuously improve.

Rather than once or twice yearly, coaching happens throughout the year; possibly every day.  And because it is on-going, it eliminates the need for formal annual appraisals and reviews.

You can begin by incorporating the constructive aspects of reviews in your existing one-on-one meetings as an opportunity for feedback and coaching.  You can dedicate time during these sessions to a discussion on how the person can enhance their own performance and play to their strengths.  In so doing, you remove the unconstructive focus on ratings.

I’ve often heard that managers resist the concept of on-going coaching because they believe it is too time-consuming. Actually, it is quite the opposite.

Managing poor performance is extremely time consuming.

In the traditional system, you have to provide written reviews, spend time with employees to discuss these reviews, monitor progress made based on these reviews and provide corrective feedback as required.

In contrast, on-going coaching might take 5 minutes of a manager’s time every week. Yet it is a powerful force in demonstrating the concern the Manager has for her employee’s development. With such enhanced and regular communication and interaction, corrective measures are more easily and seamlessly applied and results are visible fairly quickly.

You can structure your conversations to first receive an update on the one to three action items agreed to at the last meeting. Second, ask for a success story or a moment of pride. Third, brainstorm either a solution to a problem or an opportunity to pursue. And fourth, agree on one to three action items that the employee will focus on in the coming week.

A Final Word

Coaching conversations are not performance reviews; they are discussions. So talk less and let your employee talk more. Sit back, listen, ask questions for clarity. When it’s your turn to speak, give positive and constructive feedback. Tell your employee what she did well and where you see opportunities for growth. Specific examples are always helpful.

If your employee is doing most of the talking – about her wins and challenges, how she’s learning and growing – then you’ve mastered the art of the coaching conversation.

 

Good Luck.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

The Single Most Important Communication Skill to Getting What You Want

April 8 , 2019 •  4 minute read • by Saeed


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Building good relationships in the workplace is imperative to your success. It goes without saying that developing strong communication skills will increase the chance of successful relationships.

Communication skills, broadly speaking, encompass a cluster of skills related to how you articulate your points (assertively, aggressively or submissively), your ability to listen actively, how you ask questions and your non verbal communication i.e. your voice tone, body language and facial expressions, learning how to deal with conflict, presentation skills, giving feedback and so on.

It Starts With How You See Things

It all starts with how you see things. Your beliefs and thoughts, expectations, attitudes to yourself and others –  all have impact on the quality of your interaction with others. They play a key role in whether you are communicating assertively, submissively or aggressively.

If your thoughts are negative about the situation, yourself or the other person, it follows that your emotions will be impacted negatively as well. If you find yourself getting angry, annoyed, nervous, uptight etc., the cause of these negative feelings is rooted in how you think about the situation in the first place. These feelings impact on your behaviors which come across in your communication. And this is the self-fulfilling prophecy that then influences the overall outcome.

How To Communicate More Effectively

Assertive communication is the honest expression of one’s own needs, wants and feelings, while respecting those of the other person. When you communicate assertively, your manner is non-threatening and non-judgmental, and you take responsibility for your own actions. Assertive communication is stating your needs and wants, feelings, opinions and beliefs in direct, honest and appropriate ways.

Assertive communication is the premier communication skill that can reduce conflict, build your self-confidence and improve relationships in the workplace.

Here are some tips to help you learn to be more assertive:

  • Make the decision to positively assert yourself. Commit to being assertive rather than passive or aggressive and start practicing what that looks like today.
  • Aim for open and honest communication. Remember to respect other people when you are sharing your feelings, wants, needs, beliefs or opinions.
  • Listen actively. Try to understand the other person’s point of view and don’t interrupt when they are explaining it to you.
  • Agree to disagree. Remember that having a different point of view doesn’t mean you are right and the other person is wrong.
  • Avoid guilt trips. Be honest and tell others how you feel or what you want without making accusations or making them feel guilty.
  • Stay calm. Breathe normally, look the person in the eye, keep your face relaxed and speak in a normal voice.
  • Take a problem-solving approach to conflict. Try to see the other person as your friend not your enemy.
  • Practice assertiveness. Talk in an assertive way in front of a mirror or with a friend. Pay attention to your body language as well as to the words you say.
  • Use ‘I’. Stick with statements that include ‘I’ in them such as ‘I think’ or ‘I feel’. Don’t use aggressive language such as ‘you always’ or ‘you never’.
  • Be patient. Being assertive is a skill that needs practice. Remember that you will sometimes do better at it than at other times, but you can always learn from your mistakes.

A final word

Assertive communication style brings many benefits. For example, it can help you to relate to others more genuinely, with less anxiety and resentment. It also gives you more control over your life, and reduces feelings of helplessness. Furthermore, it allows OTHER people the right to live their lives.

Good Luck.

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I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Three Keys to Building Career Equity and Longevity

March 27 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed


“There is no such thing as great work without longevity.”

-Johnny Hunt

Career longevity is no longer about staying in one job for years on end. But change is not what does you in. It’s the frequency of the changes. Shifting gears too often or pulling a 180 to do something completely different than your expertise can sabotage your efforts at building career longevity. Job hopping frequently because you can’t get along with your coworkers or management or because you lack focus and don’t know what you want in your life can be a career killer.

We are not talking about people with legitimate reasons to make change. The bad boss is the classic. Sometimes we’re stuck in a job that is not good for us or we need a career change. In these instances, change can be good.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary workers have been with their current employer for a median of 4.6 years (that doesn’t include the 14 million Americans who are self-employed free agents).

That statistic simply represents a major generational shift where the trend has moved towards more change more often. In places like Silicon Valley, not only is it acceptable, it can even be a badge of honor.  For the millennial set, it’s simply the way things are.

But as a whole, building longevity is no longer about staying with one company and holding out for the gold watch.

Rather, building career longevity is about staying fresh and building career equity.

You build equity by developing a reputation, set of skills, contacts and relationships as well as behaviors that value self improvement and the kind of adaptability that will allow you to be seen as a change maker, not someone who wants to cling to the status quo.

1.      Relationship Equity

Above all, you should always be building  positive long-term relationships with co-workers and colleagues. Make an effort to clearly understand who they are, how their values align with yours, and what professional skills they bring. You also have an opportunity to help these colleagues build their careers and skills, and in so doing, you build long-term and mutual respect, trust, and goodwill. Ultimately, people want to work with other people they like. So be likable, approachable and a good colleague. It goes a long way.

2.      Reputation Equity

Think of your reputation as your professional brand. No company would ever risk their reputation intentionally. It is career suicide. Your professional brand is basically what people think of when you are not in the room: your character, values, judgment, reliability, integrity and other aspects of your character.

You build your reputation equity by the work that you do, how you talk to and treat people, your visibility, how you engage customers and clients and so on. It’s the footprint that you uniquely leave behind. The longer you work in your profession, the stronger your professional reputation will be. You are entirely in charge of it. You can either sabotage it or nurture it. The choices you make will determine your ultimate success.

3.      Skills Equity

What exactly is your portfolio of skills? What skills do you lack? What skills are important to have in your role or industry? Build your professional portfolio around signature projects. Look to obtain skills that if leveraged would get you a big return on the investment you made in obtaining that skill. Look at career opportunities from the perspective of how they’ll help you build your skills portfolio. Raise your hand to lead projects whenever you can, even if it means putting in extra work. Find ways to distinguish your contributions, and work on high-visibility projects.  Take responsibility for your own engagement and for attaining the skills that make you a stand out contributor.

A Final Word

So how long should you stay at your job? Well, according to research, it takes about two years to build career equity or a return on the individual’s investment of time, energy and skill that is meaningful to a firm and to the individual’s career.

If you just started a new job and you are worried about your staying power, or if you don’t know how to intentionally build career equity, get a coach. If the company does not provide one, hire one yourself or take the initiative to develop relationships with peers and “go-to” people for support. Avoid violating career threatening, yet unwritten rules. This is critical to making the new start a success and to building momentum.  Remember, the way we manage endings helps us take advantage of new beginnings and build career equity, and thereby, career longevity.

Good Luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others. 

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©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC